The Workflow Economy

Scott Hambrick
Posted by Scott Hambrick

The new revolution wrestles with the explosion of knowledge workers

The workflow economy: Making knowledge workers more productiveMany thousands of years ago, man was a hunter and gatherer. Humans were nomadic and spent most of their time hunting and gathering food. This was an inefficient way to obtain calories, as it just costs too many calories to get a meal. Luckily, agriculture came along and increased the productivity of our species enormously. We had a net increase in available calories to feed our children. Infant mortality dropped. We had more free time to devote to developing new technologies. We settled down near our crops and could enjoy improvements we made to our land and shelter for generations, instead of just moving on when the animals migrated.

A few hundred years ago we experienced a new revolution, the industrial revolution. Mass production, steam power, time motion studies, metallurgy, electricity and other technologies made “making stuff” very productive, and therefore profitable. High quality, inexpensive goods such as clothing, farming implements, sewing machines and automobiles flooded the western world and made every single person who utilized those technologies more productive. All the while, people were leaving the farm. Luckily they weren’t need there as nitrogen fertilizer, the steel moldboard plow, tractors and other advancements allowed fewer workers to produce even more food. Everyone won.

Forty or fifty years ago, Peter Drucker announced the rise of the “knowledge worker.” This is a person who doesn’t produce tangible products like wheat or vacuum cleaners. Their job is to use knowledge and information to improve productivity and provide value. These are the white collar workers we hear so much about. They are accountants, HR folks, purchasing agents, engineers, billing clerks. These people helped us become much, much more efficient by finding waste, streamlining processes, securing reliable supplies and improving the financial performance of our invested capital.

In the United States, most folks have left the manufacturing sector and are now in the service sector or knowledge work. Because we are in the in knowledge and information management business, I work closely with knowledge workers and their managers every day. My team and I spend more time every week designing, programming and installing workflow management for these people. This workflow routes documents, does general office tasks like filing, mailing, collation, emails, faxing and more. It can also launch applications, do data syncs, and make simple decisions.

It is clear to me that another revolution is underway, one where the worker isn’t replaced by a tractor, or a steam hammer, or a robot, but software. This revolution will free up millions of man hours from the drudgery doing repetitive paper chases in the cubicle workplace for more productive endeavors.

We have a chance to get our companies, ourselves and our employees in the forefront of this movement. We need to codify our processes and automate what we can with these new, inexpensive workflow tools. We need to make sure we understand what these tools are capable of so we can make the most of them. We need to make sure that we are engaged in creative work that provides lots of value to the customer.

We’ve helped medical facilities, truck lines, manufacturers, wholesalers, lenders and others enter into the workflow economy. Are you part of the #WorkflowEconomy? Join the conversation. I’d love to hear from you. Email or call me at (918) 664-6164.

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